Poem: On the Fall of Edward Colston

On the Fall of Edward Colston

Let them pull the statues down

Let them sing around the town

Let them scream in fascist faces

And disrupt the brutal stasis.


I have seen the soft rebuttals

All the pleas to be more subtle

But this speech in quiet voices

Smothers those who beg for choices.


Let them pull the statues down

Let them throw them on the ground

Let them vent their rage and pain

And find air to breathe again.


I’ve been silent and complicit

Made excuses to dismiss it

But I knew our heart was rotten;

Those in pain have not forgotten.


Let us pull the statues down.

Let us build a better town.

Let us force the fascists back.

I will help you to attack.

I wrote this last Sunday, to try to express my feelings at the news that protestors had removed the statue of the slave trader, Edward Colston, and dumped it in the river.

The action was non-violent (no people were hurt), powerful, and important. Yet so, so many white people were flooding social media to condemn it. Their ignorance and thoughtlessness churned my stomach.

I, too, was raised in a society where peaceful protest was put on a high pedestal, and defined away so that the only protesting actions that were deemed acceptable were those that inconvenienced no one at all.

Protests must be approved by police first.

Strikes must be scheduled to ensure the least possible disruption to service.

A man kneeling when the national anthem plays is deemed shockingly disruptive. To the extent that he lost his career.

I only started to learn a little about civil disobedience when I studied philosophy at A Level. 16 years old and no one had mentioned it to me before.

Oh, I had heard of Martin Luther King. I knew he gave the ‘I have a dream’ speech, and that he was killed. I knew about Rosa Parks solely because the character Odetta, in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three, was a black woman who had been involved in the protests, and she reflected on Rosa’s simple action of not moving from the ‘white’ section of the bus.

But I didn’t know what civil disobedience is or why it is important. That it is the action of breaking laws because those laws are unjust, as a form of protest. I didn’t understand until I took a A Level that most colleges didn’t offer, because it isn’t thought relevant to career development.

And even then, I don’t think I got it. How could I? I had been insulated from black history and the history of British imperialism my entire life. It had not featured at all in any history class. Oh, I learnt that the Spanish did terrible things to the Incas and the Mayans, but the British…?

Since then I’ve done work to try to understand. I know that there is a lot more work left to do.

For example: I did not know the history of Edward Colston, until those protestors tore down his statue.

I did not know that campaigners had petitioned to have the statue removed and been refused.

I didn’t know that the plaque on the statue described him as ‘virtuous and wise’.

I didn’t know that a new plaque was proposed that put his philanthropic contributions to the city in the context of his transportation of 84,000 enslaved people, of whom 19,000 died.

I didn’t know that the new wording was blocked by the Society of Merchant Venturers and revised wording that minimised his flaws has continued to be debated while black people in the city had to walk past the statue praising him.

Yet white people decry the destruction of this statue because the statue is supposed to be teaching us about history?

No one learnt anything from this statue but lies. And peaceful, law-abiding efforts to remove the statue to a museum, or even change the plaque to put the statue in the context of history, failed.

An MP – a Minister of Parliament – had the gall to compare this statue to the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum. (A historical site he also wrong thought to be in Germany, rather than Poland.)

A tweet from Simon Clark MP, replying to @IrvineWlesh: Irivine, it's precisely because Germany has bravely confronted her past that Auschwitz stands as a memorial of man's inhumanity to man.
The tweet has now been deleted, but responses to it are still visible.

Auschwitz is a museum that memorialises those murdered by the Nazis and presents the history of the terrible crimes conducted there for the purpose of education. The statue of Edward Colston celebrated him as virtuous. Virtuous! A man who transported 84,000 people into slavery and killed 19,000 of those.

Again: lawful attempts to place this statue in the context of Edward Colston’s violent history had failed. The statue was purely there to celebrate him and rewrite history to mention only the his philanthropic contributions. Contributions that were paid for with the blood of black people.

A better comparison would be what Germany did to the site of Hilter’s bunker: it is an unmarked and unmemorialised car park now.

Statues like this one don’t educate, they celebrate. And it is right that we remove them from our streets.

Martin Luther King is remembered by white people as an advocate for peaceful protest. But we should remember that he also said that ‘A riot is the language of the unheard.’

Black people have been unheard for a long, long time.

I submitted my poem to a market that publishes poems in response to news stories. It was not accepted, and to be honest, I expected that. I hope they choose poems by black people, whose voices deserve to be heard above mine.

This is a poem for a specific moment in time, however. And it seems worth saying to share a message that other white people seem to be struggling to hear: something is very wrong in our society. And it affects black people disproportionately.

The celebration of slavers and other rich white men who perpetrated genocidal atrocities continues in our towns and cities is a part of what’s wrong.

We can stop that. We can say: we do not celebrate these men and what they did. We can say: these are not the aspects of our history that we want people to venerate when they come to our towns and cities.

We can remove the goddamn statues.

You can take action today.

You can write to your MP and ask for the removal of statues that venerate slavers. The writetothem.org website makes it easy to find out who your MP is and send them an email.

You can sign the petition to remove all statues of slavers across the UK.

You can sign the petition to teach Britain’s colonial past as part of the UK’s compulsory curriculum.

You can donate to support causes that combat racism and police oppression, such as the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, and the Black Lives Matter UK Legal Fund.

It’s important that we educate ourselves and each other, but it’s even more important that we take concrete action to create change where we can. As a disabled person, I can’t get out and protest, but I can donate, I can write to my MP, I can sign petitions, and I can ask for change in the institutions I work for and with.

All of us can take some kind of action to build a better society. And we should.

I wrote a poem today


I went to tea
with my heroes today,
Eagerly awaiting
what they would say.

Lucy the Brave
and Susan the fair –
Daenerys, Khaleesi
Unburnt, was there.

Susan to the
Khaleesi said:
“Your brother, I hear
you burnt his head.”

Queen Lucy frowned,
“A little harsh, I think.
We forgave our brother
such terrible things”

Daeserys shrugged.
“I killed him not,
but Drogo’s crown,
he found it hot.”

Cersei snorted.
“The crown was yours!”
“I know, but still–”
“Male poison pours…”

Rapunzel frowns
“I don’t agree
My prince, he risked
his life for me.”

“And then what?”
she said, “He takes you to bed
That nary you worry
your fine little head.”

“The head from whence
your locks did flow,”
she sighs, “They cut
off mine, you know.”

Alanna the Lioness
raises her mane
“I cut off my own,
and I’d do it again!”

“I believe the point,”
said Susan, thinking,
“Is that you did it for you,
and not for your king.”

“King,” Susan laughs,
High king,” she says.
“But not a high queen,”
adds the Lioness.

“Not even a queen,
not anymore”
Susan replies
eyes to the floor.

“A queen, but a girl
forever,” Lucy says,
“Forever alone
And forever unwed.”

who had sat quiet, immobile,
Pours her own tea,
then addresses the table:

“Ladies, when you say ‘queen’
I think twice
What really you mean
Is Sacrifice.”

Eve’s Apology: A Reading for International Poetry Day

The Dream of Pilate's Wife, by Alphonse François

The Dream of Pilate’s Wife, by Alphonse François

It’s International Poetry Day! What better day to celebrate the poetry of one of the women I celebrated on International Women’s Day? Aemelia Lanyer – first female poet to be published in the English language.

Click below for a reading of her ‘Eve’s Apology’, read by me. ‘Eve’s Apology’ (here meaning ‘defence’, rather than ‘sorry about that’) is an extract from the epic poem, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. It’s from the bit where Pilate’s wife is trying to persuade him to pardon Jesus, and Pilate thinks he can just wash his hands of the matter and put it all on the crowd. And Pilate’s wife is, like, ‘You men are always shitting on women because Eve ate the apple in the garden of Eden and then everything sucked, but bitch? We’ve suffered enough. And, frankly, it wasn’t our fault, anyway, ’cause Adam never told Eve what God said about not eating from that tree. And now you’re gonna do this, even though God sent me this dream about how crappy an idea this is? And I’ve told you my dream, so if you think you can wash your hands on this, then LOL, because men won’t have shit on women after this.’

It’s basically a massive smackdown, and you gotta listen to it to really feel the way it builds.

Read more about Aemelia Lanyer in my post for International Women’s Day.

(If you enjoy this reading, please consider putting a little something in the tip jar – it’s helps me to add a little extra to this blog.)


Sometimes I want to be like ‘GUYS – make a logo-link-awesome-thing for people to use on their blogs when they promote and/or review you without worrying that you might feel they’re stealing your art’, but then I realised I don’t have one of those things, so who am I to talk? Anyway: imagine there’s an awesome banner that expresses the supreme amusement Myths RETOLD provides here.

I wanted to get back into blogging gently. I’m bubbling underneath with, like a review of all ten seasons of Smallville, Superman, some books I’ve been reading… all sorts, but I just had a killer week and am not yet recovered from my anaemia, so I’m starting with something fun.

Myths RETOLD is like the epitome of neo-geekery – that kind of ecclectic mix of niche interests, passion, inventiveness, a scholarly approach to history, a literary approach to swearing, new-tech-loving, sub-culture creating geekery that the Internet has allowed to explode and shape our culture not by defining it, but expanding it.

The creator goes by the name of ‘Ovid’, and his ‘WHO WRITES THIS SHIT?!‘ section devolves from esoteric facts about himself to a rant about birds in poetic free-form. He responded to someone else’s attempt to find a way to credit him as follows:

Just do your thing, man. Read that shit like there is no tomorrow. You can just tell people about the site, and maybe about that sweet dude named Ovid who runs the site.

He goes by @tachaberdash on Twitter and frostyobsitnic on YouTube, where he appears to be a young man (usually naked – or at least, naked from the chest up – and wearing a hat) literally yelling myths at the Internet. Alas, profit appears to have trumped his wish for anonymity, however, and his book, Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World Mythology is attributed to Cory O’Brien. (I’d be reviewing that, but I don’t own it, yet.)

Anyway, Cory yells myths at the Internet. Or rather: he writes awesome, refreshing, and often insightful free-form poetry retellings of myths and legends in the language of our times – complete with all-caps, internet-slang, and pop-culture references. His ‘SMORGASBORD OF MYTHOLOGY‘ goes from ‘AESOP’S FABLES!‘ to ‘ZOROASTRIAN!‘, and he has recently started retelling the ‘SILMARILION!’ on Wednesdays.

I can’t remember which poem I was first linked to which started my exploration of this site, but I think he had me at ‘Tam Lin is Really Good at Rape?’. For those unfamiliar with the tale, there’s an awesome ballad about a kick-ass lady who deliberately goes out to this place where she knows this guy called Tam Lin hangs out, apparently either stealing women’s ‘mantles’ or their ‘maidenheads’, she has the sex with him and gets pregnant, but it turns out he’s an enchanted knight in thrall to the Faerie Queen, and will die unless Janet saves him, WHICH SHE DOES. This is how Cory describes Janet’s motives:

i mean here’s what I don’t get
you’re going into the woods
knowing full well that there is a dude there who will steal your shawl
and if he can’t find the shawl he is going to rape you instead
so your brilliant defensive strategy is to HIDE THE SHAWL RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR VAG
thus virtually assuring hours and hours of molesting action
oh nevermind
i totally get it now

The retellings are one part exuberant enjoyment to one part wry mocking, revelling in the inconsistencies, bizarre twists, and lost meanings, whilst also cutting straight to both the intended meanings and unintended ones that read oddly to modern eyes. It’s a delight to sample myths with which you are familiar and see how Cory recasts them, but it’s also brilliant to be able to enjoy myths from other cultures as Cory loots the legends of the world and bares them all to his wit.

It’s not without flaw. Whilst his no-holds-barred critique of the rape-culture of mythology is wlecome, there’s also a fair amount of slut-shaming, too. His interpretation of Tam Lin straddles an uncomfortable line between celebrating Janet’s free-love approach to sex and directly shaming her by labelling her as a ‘(SLUT)’. And whilst I’m glad he hasn’t limited himself to classical mythology and the myths of Anglo-American culture as if it were the only culture, I don’t know if his looting of world mythology might be taken as cultural appropriation by some. I’m conscious that my cultural history must be very similar to his (he’s white American) and I may share blindspots. Certainly, it seems a little ignorant to groop all ‘AFRICAN!‘ myths under the same heading, and there is a worry that mocking someone else’s culture in this manner could well be offensive.

I don’t know. It seems it would also be offensive to leave out other cultures. I enjoy the chance to expand my cultural horizons and myths themselves tend to stem from an oral culture of telling, retelling, and remolding, with some stories spreading across cultures and around the world – the ‘Cinderella’ story has countless variations and can be found in Chinese, Ancient Greek and Egyptian, Korean, Vietnamese, Arabian versions, and many more in addition to the modern European versions popularised by the Brothers Grimm. I’ve often felt that internet culture is moving back towards a free-interpretation style of fiction which has been artificially stulted by the printing press and copyright law – isn’t Myths RETOLD merely a continuation of this development?

I don’t know. My jury’s out. But overall I can’t help but admire and enjoy the skill and wit that has been applied to retelling these tales, and I want to celebrate it. What’s more, how wonderful is it that this has become an internet success story – yelling myths at the Internet for free has enabled this guy to launch a book. You can still enjoy hundreds of retold myths online, but you can also support him by buying a physical object. I like that, and I recommend it to you.

[Exciting post-script:] I felt you guys should know that Mr O’Brien/Ovid/tacherberdash/frostyobsitnic made possibly the classiest response I have ever had to a review anywhere. You guys should totally go here and read it.

Why sorting through old notes sucks

As you may be aware, if you’ve been following my twitter feed, I’ve recently had a damp catastrophe that’s attacked about 8 years worth of notes. Some of these matter more than others, but given that I’ve been through a number of ‘slimming downs’ on the note front over the years, and these were mostly notes that had been carefully sorted into boxes and files for storage, it’s fair to assume that they contained a lot that’s precious to me, if no one else.

Some of it is no longer relevant. I don’t really need my first year notes on Ethics when I’ve taught it 4 years running. Some of it has great nostalgia value – I can’t really bear to throw out any essay with marks and ticks on it – especially if I did well. And some of it has surprised me, which brings me to the thing that’s vaguely relevant to this blog: I found a sonnet I wrote in 2001.

Context: my undergrad was a joint honours English and Philosophy degree, and one of the things my tutor thought would be fun for us to do to give us a feel for the rigours of a strict poetic form like a sonnet was to get us all to write one. I’m fairly sure that this was a first term task, rather than one I did as a part of the Shakespeare and his Contemporaries module I took later on, but I honestly don’t remember clearly anymore. It was in with other notes from my first year.

Anyway: I have not reread this poem in nearly a decade on the assumption that it was forced and awful. Because I don’t write poetry – I’m not a poet. I’ve written about 3 poems I am sort of happy with ever, one is composed entirely of swear words. But as I was sorting through what to throw and what to gamely try and dry out, I found this. The title sucks, but I think it’s otherwise not half bad:

The Love of Art

Robbed of lover’s words, who is Romeo?
A nameless rose no tragedy ensnares.
This beauty in concise or flowing prose
Another’s heartache brings amongst our cares.
Our shame as selfish creatures one and all
Can be forgot within a gloried verse.
As one of hero’s brethren we stand tall
Avoiding baser fears that are our curse.
What wondrous power pulls us worlds away
And draws from us our pained thoughts and woe,
Because this subtle stranger tells us so?
And thus through love of words one can impart
The sweet perfume that is the love of art.

It’s a very me sort of response to a writing challenge. Rather than writing about love or romance, I decided to write a commentary on the practice of sonnet writing itself. I can’t even remember what sort of sonnet this is, now. I suppose I could work it out with a little thought, but I can’t be arsed. I have paper to dry. I remember it was a right bugger to do, though. I shall always be in awe of real poets, like my amazing friend Adrienne – one of the few poets to pass through the writing group I was in at university, and whose writing and passion blew me away.

But anyway. That’s a little bit of my writing, but in a form I don’t usually do. It was nice to stumble upon. This is one piece of paper I shall not be throwing out.